Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Giving Thanks–more than just today

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It’s time for the annual Thanksgiving feast, which for many includes mashed potatoes, green beans, yams, bread, squash, stuffing, Turkey, and dessert. We might gather around a table and each say one thing we’re thankful for. We might pray for those who spend the holiday alone, or on the street, or hungry. We might just dig in and eat and laugh and eat some more, until we collapse into a tryptophan coma. Then we’ll eat the leftovers as soup and sandwiches while we watch football and play games between naps and shopping trips, all the way through until January.

I have to admit that this stark description of Thanksgiving isn’t flattering. It reminds me that we seem to have given gratitude one day out of the year, and then turned it into something that is somehow about us. In my family growing up, we often had enough food at Thanksgiving to feed our family of four for at least a week, maybe more. But even with leftovers, we managed to devour the feast in a few days. Meanwhile, one of my neighbors was a single woman with two kids that I sometimes babysat for free. They were really struggling, and every year my brother and I packed up two paper grocery bags of all the Thanksgiving fixings for the three of them: a small turkey, a box of stuffing mix, some vegetables and rolls and canned pumpkin pie filling. One thing the kids always really looked forward to was olives. We always put in a can of whole black olives, and I could just imagine the kids each sticking the olives on the ends of their fingers and eating them off one by one. Olives were such a treat, they only got them at Thanksgiving, when my family included them in our grocery gift.
I don’t think of olives this way—olives are a normal thing to me. I like them on burritos at home, and quesadillas, and salads, and all kinds of things. I don’t even consider them to be expensive. But when times are hard, I suppose luxuries like olives can be hard to justify. Every year at Thanksgiving I think about that family and their olives.

So today, when we gather with friends and family, or with pets and TV, or even alone, we may take a moment to pause and contemplate our blessings–even as some of us might be having a hard time making ends meet, some of us wonder if we’ll have a job next week, some of us are spending the feast day alone for the first time, missing family members and friends no longer with us. In a season of joy and exuberance and excess, we stop to remember from where we have come. We remember the many generations before us who have made our lives possible. We remember the One who has blessed us and guided us to this place. We give thanks to God, who is always good. To use a cliché, we count our blessings and find that, even though the economy looks dim, there are still too many blessings to count.

It is important to give thanks. And not just once a year, on the fourth Thursday of November. Not just when we sit at a table laden down with a feast. Not just when the whole family is together. All the time. Every day. “Give thanks in all circumstances” Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians. “Give thanks to the Lord for God is good.” And in Philippians: “If there is anything excellent, think about these things.” Gratitude doesn’t require its own holiday—it’s meant to be a part of the fabric of our being, a natural response to all that has been given to us. Sometimes gratitude is really hard—it’s hard to give thanks in all circumstances. Really, all circumstances? Even in the midst of grief? Depression? Anxiety? Fear? But Paul, when writing his letter, didn’t qualify his statement. Just “give thanks in all circumstances.” I think that might be a clue that it isn’t supposed to be simple, but it’s also not as complex as we often make it out to be.

Gratitude isn’t really about a feeling or even a word—though a “thank you” can go a long way! I suspect this is true in many of our traditions, and I know it’s true in my scriptural and theological tradition: feelings, while important, are not the point. God is much more interested in how we choose to act, how we respond, how we love, than how we feel. I wonder, then, what gratitude looks like as an action rather than as a feeling?

As you give thanks this day, for what are you grateful? How can you live a life of gratitude every day, not just on the national holiday set aside for thanks?

Sunday’s Prayers of the People

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Gracious God,
we give you thanks for this day that you have made.
For the sun that rises and sets,
for the seasons that change in your time,
for all the ways you care for us and for your creation,
we give you thanks.
God, we are so grateful.
In this season of thanks-giving,
we ask that you would form us in gratitude,
help us to be thankful in all times and places,
not only when all our families are gathered around a feast.
And as we give thanks, remind us of those who are in need.
For your people around the world who are hungry,
for bread or for justice,
who thirst for clean water or for love,
who live in fear,
who suffer from violence,
we pray to you, O God.
Rain down your peace, your grace, your comfort, your word
on all the world.
Send help to those who need it,
and open our ears to hear if we are the help you will send.
Open our eyes to see, and open our hands to serve.
We pray all these things in the name of Jesus,
who taught us to pray together, Our Father…

Giving Thanks

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Amy Butler, pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC, posted this today. It seems fitting for our reflection this week. I have changed some of the specifics (names and places) to fit our community.

Amy writes:

I first read some version of this prayer more than ten years ago.  It was written by a friend and mentor of mine, Rev. Sharlande Sledge, who probably was the first woman I ever saw in a pulpit wearing a clerical robe.  As you will see, she also has a gift with words beyond compare.  With her permission I first used this prayer at a community Thanksgiving service many years ago.  The experience was so moving that it has become my Thanksgiving practice to offer some version of this prayer every year in Sunday worship before Thanksgiving.  It changes all the time–all the details and specifics of the prayer shift each year to speak to God out of the life of this congregation here and now.  But the essence of the prayer remains the same.

It would have been enough, Lord, to live on this earth, to have the holy privilege of being human, to be able to breathe deeply and move and touch and taste, to get to hug and cry and sing and sigh with relief, to take sips of water and feel the wind on our cheeks, to pick up smooth stones and hear the rain on the roof, to stand beneath the wondrous sky with our souls swaying in awe.

It would have been enough to have the gift of one day, but instead you gave us the rhythm of work and rest, seven days that cycle through the bare branches of winter into the growth of spring and summer to the harvest of fall.

It would have been enough, Lord, to have one source of water, but we have oceans full of another world of life, waves washing the shore, rain to sustain the land, rivers to baptize our spirits, streams in the desert, and, when we need it, a cool cup to quench our thirst.

It would have been enough to be nourished by manna in the wilderness, but we get to savor the taste of bread made of wheat or corn, oats or rye, sometimes shaped into tortillas, sometimes laced with cinnamon, with walnuts or blueberries tossed in.  And to our table God added peaches and pumpkins and pomegranates, eggplants, mushrooms and apricots—and a circle of people who feast with us in communion.

It would have been enough to inhabit the earth with humankind.  But you created elephants, caterpillars, lizards and ladybugs, giraffes and wild turkeys.  O God, you filled the air with butterflies and dragonflies and the ocean with starfish, turtles and whales.

The privilege of living in communion with you, Lord, would have been enough, but we also get to live in neighborhoods and in community, to feel connected to brothers and sisters around the globe, to share our wealth with the hungry, to visit Egypt, Mexico, Colombia, Palestine, Louisiana, and inner city Chicago, both ourselves and through the prayers, stories, and courageous actions of others; to marvel at language beyond words and in words, to travel and to return home.

Talking to communicate our simple needs would have been enough, but we also get to sing in harmony and laugh until our sides ache, offer healing words and embrace each other with our prayers.  It would have been enough to walk through the seasons of life with our faith family.  But we have also been given the treasure of grieving together, celebrating together, and even working through conflict together.  What a deep and profound gift.

It would have been enough, Lord, to hear our own voices, but you gave us the sounds of Jimmy Stewart, Maya Angelou and Garrison Keillor.  It would have been enough to have one way to make music, but we have Bach and Rutter and the Indigo Girls, drums, organ and the voices of our children.  One book would have been an incredible gift, but we have been lavished with Dr. Seuss and E.B. White, Emily Dickinson and Annie Dillard, Wordsworth and the Apostle John and Anne Lamott and Frederick Buechner.

It would have been enough to be blessed with arms open to receive God’s gifts, but we are also blessed with the chance to participate with creativity and imagination in bringing healing to a broken world.

It would have been enough for you to offer us love once, but your love comes over and over again, every moment of every day, and it is so much more than enough.  We offer our deepest thanks.  Amen.